Raw milk is a trend, but health officials say it's a dangerous one

Despite its growing popularity, health officials continue to raise concerns about raw milk - ConsumerAffairs

Be careful when you go to the fair this summer, too

Raw milk, or unpasteurized milk, has seen a surge in popularity despite significant health warnings from various health authorities.

This trend may be particularly concerning given the recent outbreak of bird flu (H5N1) in dairy cows across the United States. Concerning in that it could harm those who drink their milk that way.

There are at least a dozen states where selling unpasteurized milk is allowed. It can vary, though, as about a third of those states have some sort of regulation tied to it.

For example, in Arizona, dairies must be licensed by the Arizona Department of Agriculture and meet Grade A standards; and all containers with raw milk must be labeled with the statement: "Raw milk: not pasteurized and may contain organisms injurious to your health."

The dangers of drinking raw milk

The moo’vement has a number of marquee names behind it, too – influencers like Gwyneth Paltrow and outspoken advocates like Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. They praise it for its nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats, and enzymes. They argue that patureurization can denature proteins and fats.

However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have consistently warned that raw milk is one of the "riskiest" foods to consume due to the potential for contamination with harmful pathogens such as salmonella, E. coli, listeria, and campylobacter -- many of those connected to bird flu. These pathogens can cause severe illness, including food poisoning, kidney failure, and even death. 

“Food safety experts like me are just simply left shaking their heads,” Donald Schaffner, a Rutgers University food science professor, said, calling the trend “absolutely stunning.” And the CDC backs Schaffner up, too.

From 1998 to 2018, the CDC registered more than 200 illness outbreaks connected to raw milk, which made more than 2,600 people sick and hospitalized another 225. 

And even though the number of people who consume unpasteurized milk is low – only 3.2% of the population – and unpasteurized cheese is consumed by only 1.6% of the population, contaminated dairy products cause many times more illnesses than pasturized products. 

“These germs can seriously injure the health of anyone who drinks raw milk or eats products made from raw milk," the agency, along with the FDA, said in a recent publication. 

One of the agencies' concerns is that the germs in raw milk can be especially dangerous to people with weakened immune systems (such as transplant patients and individuals with HIV/AIDS, cancer, and diabetes), children, older adults, and pregnant women. In fact, CDC found that foodborne illness from raw milk affects children and teenagers especially.

County fairs and state fairs could pose problems, so be careful

If you’re headed to your county or state fair this summer, you should take extra precaution because there could be a higher risk of disease spreading even further. Not only from your kids patting Elsie The Cow, but there will be lots of people from farms where infected cows might live or there might be some of the virus molecules on farming equipment.

Farmers are trying to make sure this bird flu outbreak has a chance to mend, but you still might not see as many cows as you have in the past because of farmers protecting their herds. But you should still be cautious, Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, professor of medicine and infectious disease specialist at UCSF, told 6News in Richmond Va.

"I would caution people against any unpasteurized cheese or raw milk that you might also find at these state fairs," he said.

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